Hunting scandal summons ghosts of past

Hunting scandal summons ghosts of past

After the Thungyai poaching scandal, there was no stopping the democracy forces, who toppled the Thanom-Prapas-Narong dictatorship on Oct 14, 1973. (Creative Commons via Wikipedia)
After the Thungyai poaching scandal, there was no stopping the democracy forces, who toppled the Thanom-Prapas-Narong dictatorship on Oct 14, 1973. (Creative Commons via Wikipedia)

The suspected illegal hunting in the World Heritage Thungyai Naresuan wildlife sanctuary in Kanchanaburi province, in which the president of the construction giant Italian-Thai Development (ITD), Premchai Karnasuta, was arrested on Sunday night and accused of being a member of the hunting party, reminds me of a similar incident 45 years ago in the same forest.

I was then a young reporter with less than two years' experience in journalism.

On April 29, 1973, a police helicopter crashed in Bang Len district of Nakhon Pathom. Six passengers on board, including a young boy, were killed and four others were seriously injured.

But what raised the eyebrows of forestry officials and the media were the large number of animal carcasses found scattered around the crash site.

Veera Prateepchaikul is a former editor, Bangkok Post.

It was revealed afterward that those on board the ill-fated chopper were members of a hunting party on a hunting spree in Thungyai game sanctuary. There were about 50 of them, many from Bangkok's high-society circles, including middle-ranking army and police officers, businessmen, children and a movie star.

They set up a well-equipped camp in the middle of the jungle next to a creek named Seshowe, which means celestial sound in the Karen language.

Vehicles headlights were used for nighttime shooting and every morning a police helicopter would arrive at the site to airlift surplus meat and trophies of the animals killed back to Bangkok.

Pong Leng-ee, the director of the sanctuary at that time, and his colleagues were tipped off about this illegal hunting trip. He tried to reason with the group to stop the illegal activity but to no avail. He also brought some university students with him to the sanctuary to cover the incident. However, karma caught up with the hunting party when the helicopter crashed on April 29, 1973.

Without the chopper crash, the illegal hunting might have never be exposed and those involved in the would not have been put on trial because of their connections with the then military dictatorship of field marshals Thanom Kittikachorn and Prapass Charusathiara, and Col Narong Kittikachorn, known collectively as the "tyrannical trio".

As the officers involved in the hunting scandal fell into disgrace, Mr Pong shot to fame for standing up against the elites and his career steadily advanced until he was eventually appointed the director-general of the Forestry Department.

Politics wise, the Thungyai hunting scandal fuelled public discontent against the dictatorship and inspired the student movement to challenge the iron-fisted military rule.

Six months afterwards, in October 1973, student-led protests culminated in the uprising against the military regime known as the October 14 incident.

I am not sure whether the ITD boss knew about this similar incident 45 years ago in the same game sanctuary or not, or the fate of all the army and police officers involved in the illegal hunting scandal whose bright careers were ruined. None of them ever had their high social status restored.

Honestly, I don't understand the mentality of the ITD boss who, despite immense wealth, finds thrills and excitement in killing wild animals, especially endangered species such as a black leopard with full knowledge that it is against the law.

I understand there is a saying that there are always two sides of a human being -- one side that is open and can be seen and the other side which is concealed like two sides of a coin.

What will his fate be? I don't want to guess at this stage.

By the way, I wonder whether anyone has ever told him about the curse of the divine guardian of Thungyai?

Veera Prateepchaikul

Former Editor

Former Bangkok Post Editor, political commentator and a regular columnist at Post Publishing.

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